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The Book Gnome, a site for book reviews and reading ideas for teenagers

Book of the Month for December 2016

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The novel explores the impact on the civilians in eastern Nigeria when it seceded to become the state of Biafra, from its joyous birth to the bloody war that lead to death of starvation among its citizens, and its demise.

The novel follows Odenigbo, a radical maths lecturer at Nsukka University, Ugwu - the uneducated houseboy, Odenigbo's lover - Olanna - the London-educated daughter of a 'nouveau riche' Lagos businessman, Olanna's twin sister Kainene, and Kainene's English boyfriend, Richard.

It is a novel of stark contrasts. For example, the book opens with scenes of abundunt drink and rich food like pepper soup and spicy jollof rice, accompanied by intense intellectual debate on Sharpeville, Algeria and the struggle for US civil rights then descends into silence, privation and hunger as war takes effect.

Disturbing images like "vaguely familar clothes on headless bodies" capture the atrocities of war. It is an an unforgettable and moving book from an exceptionally skilled author.

Classic Suggestion for December 2016

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Dracula is an 1897 Gothic horror novel by Irish Bram Stoker in epistolary format. The story takes largely in England and Transylvania during the 1890s.

Jonathan Harker, an English solicitor, visits Count Dracula in Transylvania to help complete a real estate transaction. In the castle, he encounters three female vampires, and barely escapes with his life.

Dracula moves to England hidden in a coffin and begines to stalk Lucy Westenra, a friend of Jonathan Harker's fiancée.

Lucy begins to waste away, Abraham Van Helsing recognises the cause of her condition. Van Helsing prescribes numerous blood transfusions, and a necklace of withered Garlic Blossoms to be worn at all times but Lucy continues to become worse. The doctors find two small puncture marks on her neck, and eventually Lucy dies.

The celebrated vampire-hunter Professor Abraham van Helsing sets out to find and destroy Count Dracula, leading to a well-told story. The novel continues to enchant readers, with good reason.

Teen Book Idea for December 2016

A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro

The novel features the great-great-grandchildren of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, so unsurprisingly, the title is a play on the famous Sherlock Holmes title "A Study in Scarlet".

Jamie Watson (no prizes for guessing to whom he is related) receives a scholarship to a school in Connecticut, where Charlotte Holmes (the clue is in the surname) is already a student.

Charlotte is a genius, loves playing the violin, and has severe mood swings. People stay away from her both because of her temperament, and she makes it very clear that she is not interested in friends. Does this remind you of anyone?

Then a fellow student with which they both have a history is murdered, and the pair are framed for the murder. Very quickly, they realise that they cannot trust anyone other than each other, and are forced to work together to solve the murder.

The book is a real page turner that simply flies by. An excellent read based on a clever idea.

Children's Book Recommendation for December 2016

Quit Calling Me a Monster by Jory John

Floyd angrily resents being seen as a stereotype, and trys to prove to readers that he is not monstrous. "Quit calling me a monster! Just ... stop it, right this minute!", screams the immaculately dressed, wildly hairy monster.

However, the problem is that Floyd has a "huge, toothy smile that glows in the dark", "crazy hair" and "wild eyes" so looks just like a monster, and cannot shake the label.

The monster fails miserably to make his point so decides on a different approach. Accepting that it looks like and is a monster, it starts to introduce itself using a name that sounds like someone ordinary and likeable - "My name is Floyd, Floyd Peterson" - to show that he is more than shaggy purple fur and pointy monster teeth.

The funny story, expressive illustrations and endearing protagonist, show how it feels to be different.

Author Suggestion for December 2016

Barbara Kingsolver

Barbara Kingsolver was raised in rural Kentucky and lived briefly in Africa. She has lived in England, France, and the Canary Islands.

Kingsolver has a bachelor's and a master's degree in biology, and worked as a freelance science writer in the mid 1980s, before she began writing novels.

Kingsolver has won multiple awards from the American Booksellers Association and the American Library Association. The Poisonwood Bible was a Pulitzer finalist. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle won prizes like the James Beard award. The Lacuna won Britain's prestigious Orange Prize for Fiction.

Her most famous works include The Poisonwood Bible, the tale of a missionary family in the Congo, and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, a non-fiction account of her family's attempts to eat locally. Each of her books since 1993 have been on The New York Times Best Seller list.

In a 2010 interview with The Guardian, Kingsolver says, "I never wanted to be famous, and still don't" and in 2007, she discusses The Poisonwood Bible with James Naughtie and an audience on the BBC. She has created her own website to compete with a plethora of fake ones"

Prize of the month for December 2016

Not the Booker Prize 2016

On the 24 October, Tiffany McDaniel was named as the winner of the Not the Booker Prize for her book The Summer That Melted Everything.

Fielding Bliss has never forgotten the summer of 1984. It was the year that a heat wave scorched the small town of Breathed, Ohio, and also the year that he became friends with the devil.

The story starts when local prosecutor, Autopsy Bliss, invites the devil to come to his small town in Ohio. To the surprise of the residents, the devil actually turns up in the form of a tattered and bruised thirteen-year-old boy called Sal.

Fielding, the son of Autopsy, finds the boy outside the courthouse and brings him home. The Bliss family welcome the boy thinking that he is a runaway from a nearby farm town. A heat wave hits the town when he arrives, and Sal claims to be the devil. As strange accidents start to occur, riled by the feverish heat, some in the town start to believe Sal is who he claims to be.

The Bliss family wrestle with their demons, and the sleepy Ohio town is driven to the brink of catastrophe.

Poem of the month

Not my Business by Niyi Osundare

They picked Akanni up one morning
Beat him soft like clay
And stuffed him down the belly
Of a waiting jeep.

What business of mine is it
So long they don't take the yam
From my savouring mouth?

They came one night
Booted the whole house awake
And dragged Danladi out,
Then off to a lengthy absence.

What business of mine is it
So long they don't take the yam
From my savouring mouth?

Chinwe went to work one day
Only to find her job was gone:
No query, no warning, no probe -
Just one neat sack for a stainless record.

What business of mine is it
So long they don't take the yam
From my savouring mouth?

And then one evening
As I sat down to eat my yam
A knock on the door froze my hungry hand.

The jeep was waiting on my bewildered lawn
Waiting, waiting in its usual silence

Kuljit Dhami

I am an English Language and Culture student in Groningen (NL) which means, more often than not, I can be found with my nose in a book. Or gallivanting around the country trying my hand at street photography, whilst successfully avoiding my responsibilities.

While my taste in literature is varied, which ranges from political satire to psychological thrillers, I definitely have a penchant for postcolonial literature. The amalgamation of unfamiliar settings, politics, and foreign cultures always make for truly distinctive and often poignant tales.

I am also a trustee of Porridge and Rice, a charity working to end extreme poverty in the Nairobi slums through education. As a result, Kenya and its people have found a very special place in my heart and I am constantly looking forward to the next time I can visit. Visit Kujit for book reviews that I have written.

Jude Hanlon

Jude Hanlon is a software development manager working and living in the North West of England.

Her hobbies include reading, writing, knitting, skating, gardening, cooking, films and TV (not necessarily in that order). This diversity of taste is reflected in Jude's reading materials, from chick-lit to sci-fi. As her children are now of an age where they watch and read independently, she is enjoying exploring grown-up culture again, and really likes a good twist in the tale.

Jude is also a trustee of the charity Porridge and Rice which supports education in the slums of Nairobi. She has visited Nairobi twice, and plans to be a regular visitor.

Read book reviews by Jude.

Gene Lopez

I live in the San Francisco Bay Area and came of age during the turbulent 1960s. Very early on, I became interested in environmental and social issues, which continue to this day to shape my world view.

I enjoy fiction, music biographies, and political & military history, like (1) All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, which deserved to win the 2015 Pulitzer Prize; and (2) All Quiet On The Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, a masterpiece describing the impact of wars started by distant leaders on the people they purport to represent.

I recently set up Original Gravity Tours, a specialty travel company providing high quality beer tours turning my love of travel and beer into a business.

Visit Gene for book reviews that I have written.

Original Gravity Tours

Original Gravity Tours is a specialty travel company focused on providing excellent tours of the "Beer Capitals" of Europe like Munich & Bamberg. Their aim is to provide a high quality travel experience emphasising the history and methods of brewing, combined with local history and select cultural sites.

According to Gene Lopez, the founder of Original Gravity Tours, "... after 30+ years in the high-tech industry, it was time to focus on what I love, international travel and well-crafted beer", and Original Gravity Tours was born.

The Farm at 64

I don't really have a farm. I don't even have a small holding. I just keep a number of small animals as pets.

I live in Whitton in the UK about ten minutes from Heathrow between Hounlsow and Twickenham in Greater London. I live with my wife, three children, one dog, two rabbits, seven Pekin ducks, a flock of Pekin bantam chickens, four chinchillas, just over 20 guinea pigs, a group of African Pygmy hedgehogs, and numerous birds like a number of budgies, various finches, Diamond doves, Zebra doves, and Chinese painted quails (button quails).

Understanding Drugs

Drugs are a fact of life. Furthermore, drugs are readily available at all schools, plus temptation and peer pressure is huge.

Every parent, teacher, guardian, or person who has contact and/or responsibility for a child or young person should therefore know about drugs in order to be able to respond quickly and effectively should a young person or child be tempted.

UK National Drugs helpline: 0300 123 6600

The Secular Atheist

I describe myself as a secular atheist, hence the name of the site. I am also a committed humanist.

As an atheist, I actively oppose religious privilege especially when religion tries to force its values on civil society like the denial of equality for LGBQT people and limiting women's reproductive rights.

As a humanist, I am an avid supporter of human rights as defined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, and in my own small way, promote them through the charity that I chair Porridge and Rice and my work teaching through KS Learning.





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The 10 Best Books of 2016

The year's best books, selected by the editors of The New York Times Book Review. 1 December 2016.

Charlotte Brontë, the filthy bitch

Enough of the Brontë industry's veneration of coffins, bonnets and TB. It is time to exhume the real Charlotte - filthy bitch, grandmother of chick-lit, and friend.

Beryl Bainbridge was nice as well as naughty - and a brilliant novelist

The fictions of Beryl Bainbridge's life were as important to her as the facts. As a novelist, she knew the dramatic exigencies of telling a tale.

Visit KS Learning for notes and articles on Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë for A level English Literature essays and coursework.

Visit KS Learning for notes and articles on The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald for A level English Literature essays and coursework.

Visit KS Learning for notes and articles on Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote for A level English Literature essays and coursework.

Visit KS Learning for notes and articles on A Streetcar named Desire by Tennessee Williams for A level English Literature essays and coursework.

Porridge and Rice

Porridge and Rice is an education charity that supports children living in the Nairobi slums. The goal is to ensure that these children receive a sound education to enable them to break the cycle of poverty and deprivation.

At present, the charity supports 2000 pupils in 5 schools through its 7 programmes which do everything from providing sanitary pads to girls that have reached puberty and delivering text books for core subjects like Maths and English.

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